International experts target Alzheimer's gains at Hong Kong conference

Experts hear that more accurate blood test and form of arthritis which may prompt debilitating dementia

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 January, 2015, 11:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 January, 2015, 6:04pm

A more accurate blood test and the existence of a form of arthritis are among potential diagnostic areas that international medical experts have identified in the fight against Alzheimer's disease.

Arthritic inflammation in other parts of the body might be seemingly unrelated to Alzheimer's, but research indicated it could worsen the disease, a three-day dementia conference that ended in Hong Kong yesterday heard.

Prevention is key as medical science still has no cure for the age-related illness, which now affects 36 million people throughout the world. The World Health Organisation estimates the total will double every two decades.

In Hong Kong, Alzheimer's afflicts one in three residents over the age of 85 - but research on the subject was lacking in the city, mainland China and other Asian countries, said Professor Nancy Ip Yuk-yu, dean of the University of Science and Technology's science school.

Dr Maria Carrillo, chief science officer of the US-based Alzheimer's Association, said: "The financial stress on the family and the health care system is really intolerable today and is not going to be manageable in the future - unless we solve this problem.

"People can live with dementia for up to 20 years. But after the third year, they are most likely to require 24-hour care that is extremely expensive."

Ip and Carrillo were among more than 20 experts discussing the irreversible condition, whose cognitive problems include speech impairment and memory loss, at the event hosted by the university and the US-based association.

The number of local patients is expected to double every five years amid a rapidly ageing population - meaning Alzheimer's could affect some 280,000 people by 2036.

No treatment exists even to delay the condition's progression. Specialists require lots of data just to arrive at a diagnosis, determine the severity of the problem and seek its cause.

Ip said the situation was particular relevant to the city and would threaten the health care system as the population was rapidly ageing.

Carrillo said that international specialists at the conference had shared encouraging progress in understanding the disease and identified some research areas.

The blood test, developed by American researchers last year, was 90 per cent accurate in predicting whether a person would develop dementia in a few years, Carrillo said.

The test sought to detect 10 bio-markers in the blood that were linked to the disease and many countries had approved its use, she said.

She hoped the new test would become widely used as the diagnostic tool for dementia.

In addition, British research suggested patients suffering from a certain type of arthritis, in which the joints are inflamed, might be at greater risk of developing dementia, Carrillo said.

The finding could offer insights into the causes of dementia and help researchers develop targeted medication.

"From the public health perspective, all of the countries must work together to solve this problem," she said.